A certain percentage of young people will always leave South Australia


It stinks, but it’s true.

Steven Marshall campaigned hard on this issue in the recent SA State election (which he won) and I for one am glad that fresh eyes are looking at this problem. However he will never be completely successful.

It remains a fact that 90+ percent of head offices are in either Sydney or Melbourne, and unless we want to double our size (in people, infrastructure etc) we will never attract more than one or two big businesses here, compared to the dozens interstate.

Of course it is worth trying but ANZ, Telstra, Panasonic and the very large organisations will never move here.

I myself spent four years in Sydney because I wanted to see how high I could go, and to enjoy the variety and challenge of working for a major corporation. I ended up as National Product Manager for IT Products for Panasonic Australia, a position I loved and never would have achieved had I remained in SA.

Mind you four years was enough (I spent over three hours a day commuting, thankfully in a company car), and family circumstances necessitated that I return to SA.

I came back to a position as a Corporate Salesperson for Ericsson. This was a big step down from travelling around Australia every few months, demonstrating the latest IT products and teaching distributors and major retail outlets how to sell them. I also gained valuable experience in presenting to the top buyers in Harvey Norman, Myers and so on, negotiating floor space and pricing.

I never would have had that experience here in Adelaide, where the biggest employer is the State Government.

I much prefer working in Adelaide to the traffic, congestion, polluted air and high cost of living in Sydney. However the upsides of working interstate, if you have ambition, far outweigh the negatives.

The attitude interstate is also much closer to the US and Silicon Valley. There, if you have started a business and failed they are actually impressed by your initiative and know that you learned some hard lessons. In Adelaide you are more likely to be shunned.

This attitude within our beautiful State will not change until the current ‘startup generation’ are well into their forties. Unfortunately this is a hard fact that we must face head-on.

So how do we keep young people from leaving SA? By being more forgiving of their mistakes and encouraging them to try again. By recognising that a certain percentage will move interstate no matter what you do, and helping the rest to make the move back ‘home’ an easy one.

You can accomplish this by having a small department that keeps in contact with these talented and adventurous young people, encouraging them to explore outside SA (they will anyway) and yet also ehticing them to return by offering a more welcoming attitude. This same small department could assist them in their transition back to SA, without them having to go backwards in their careers, by facilitating them to find a relevant position here that is of sufficient interest to them.

This small (keep it simple and focused!) government department could help them find interesting roles by assisting local businesses here to create them. This can be achieved by finding the already successful small businesses in SA (of which there are many) and assisting them, without mountains of red tape, to grow.

Up until now most of the emphasis has been on opening startup hubs and announcing unrealistic figures on how many jobs they will create. Yes we need to foster our local startup community but it needs to be coordinated and supported properly. This would involve assisting them by providing long term mentoring, cheap access to accountants, lawyers and investors to steer them in the right direction. Also vital is utilising the founders of already successful startups in SA, by encouraging them to introduce local business people to respected contacts they never would have met otherwise.

All this needs to be done in conjunction with identifying small businesses that could easily become large businesses with the right backing and support.

Such a coordinated effort would make it more attractive for our young people to stay here, and for those that leave it would encourage the talented ones to return. That involves keeping track of them and using a CRM (customer relationship management) system within government, to keep in touch and to entice them back.

This means it would be essential for this arm of government to be run like a business.

I, for one, have hope.

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